Thursday, January 17, 2008

Graphic Lit: Clearing off my desk

I always like to start the year off with a clean slate.

In this case, that means attempting to clear the pile of review books off my shelf to make room for the next round. Thus, here's another, even faster "lightning round of reviews" of some books that hit stores last year:

"Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm" by Percy Carey and Ronald Wimberly (Vertigo, $19.99) -- The indie rapper MF Grimm tells his life story, including the shooting that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Considering Carey's rough and tumble life, it's a pretty cursory run through his biography, and neither Carey nor artist Wimberly seem particularly curious as to how or why particular events shaped him -- he comments frequently on his explosive temper, but never seems to question its origins. The result is a strangely anemic autobiography.

"The Ride Home" by Joey Weisner (AdHouse Books, $9.95) -- A rather twee tale about a gnome who lives in a car, gets lost and has some mundane adventures before finding a new abode. Even if you're in the market for unbearable cuteness, this book is a bit too clumsily handled to be worth your time.

"Just When You Thought Things Couldn't Get Worse: The Cartoons and Comic Strips of Edward Sorel" (Fantagraphics Books, $18.95) -- Sorel has always been one of the best editorial and satirical cartoonists working in major media (by which I mean The New Yorker, The Village Voice, etc.). He also boasts an idiosyncratic, sketchy style that's instantly recognizable and utterly compelling. This handy collection compiles some of his best work of the past 30 years.

"The Aviary" by Jamie Tanner (AdHouse Books, $12.95) -- Tanner tells darkly comic, surreal stories about alienation, longing, death, creepy blinking birdmen and dismemberment. This collection of interconnecting short stories, drawn in a tightly controlled, almost cold style, will hopefully garner him a wider audience. He's an artist deserving of more attention.

"Pumpkin Scissors Vol. 1" by Ryotaro Iwanaga (Del Rey, $10.95) -- Despite the ridiculous title, this is actually a rather entertaining manga about a military force determined to keep the peace after a lengthy and costly war. "Scissors" is thoughtful enough to consider the various complications a tenuous truce would entail, yet lighthearted enough to include the requisite bit of high action or low comedy. It's a good mix.

"Betsy and Me" by Jack Cole (Fantagraphics Books, $14.95) -- Plastic Man creator and Playboy cartoonist Cole realized his dream of becoming a syndicated newspaper comic strip with the release of "Betsy and Me" in 1958. Then, two and a half months later he committed suicide.

That weighs what would otherwise be regarded as a delightful, lighthearted family strip with a good deal of unnecessary sorrow. If you can submerge those inclinations, however, you'll discover an utterly charming riff on late '50s family life that never got the chance it deserved.

"The Best American Comics 2007" edited by Chris Ware (Houghton Mifflin, $22) -- Actually, most of this work is from 2006, but it's hard to quibble with the bulk of material sampled in this "best of" anthology. It reflects Ware's interests in autobiography and formalism, so those who don't share said interests will find their attention waning. Still, it's a pretty good sample of what some of the best in the field are doing right now.

"Thunderhead Underground Falls" by Joel Orff, Alternative Comics, $14.95. -- Orff's work has left me cold until now, but I found this impressionistic story about a young man remembering his last night of freedom with his friend/romantic partner before heading off to join the military rather compelling. Orff's work has always been more about fleeting moments and memories than a traditional narrative, and his art can come off as crude at times, but it's hard not to find this book's poetry.

"Essex County Vol. 1: Tales From the Farm" and "Essex County Vol. 2: Ghost Stories" by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf, $9.95 and $14.95). -- Struggling family relationships set against the cold Canadian landscape is the central thrust of this ongoing series of interrelated graphic novels. Of the two, the second volume, about a pair of bickering, hockey-playing brothers, is the better.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007



At 10:29 AM, Blogger Frank Santoro said...

I hate to take issue with your choice of words, but describing Joel Orff's work as "crude" is really a disservice. He has a remarkable "touch" and that isn't conveyed by saying "it's not hard to find this book's poetry."

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Chris Mautner said...

Would awkward be a better choice of words? Or ineffective? There are many times in reading Orff's books where I can tell what he's trying to get across, but think he falls short of his goal. I think Thunderhead is the first book of his where I didn't feel that way, but I wouldn't necessarily say it's able to keep its tone consistently throughout the whole book.

You can take issue with my choice of words anytime Frank. I'm not that in love with my writing.

At 11:49 AM, Blogger Chris Mautner said...

Looking over it now, I think you're right. Crude is way too negative a term to be throwing around for what should otherwise be a positive review. My apologies to Mr. Orff.

At 1:04 PM, Blogger Frank Santoro said...

Chris, I just seem to bristle at that word, "crude" which has often been described to use my work --but only in comics circles.

"awkward" "naive" "left of center" anything is better than a dismissive word, like "crude" that connotes a "negative."

At 1:05 PM, Blogger Frank Santoro said...

whoops I meant "used to describe my work."
typing too fast...


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